Monkeypox is a viral infection that does not spread easily between people.
What you need to know in the ACT
Since May 2022, there has been a global increase in monkeypox cases reported from multiple countries where monkeypox is not usually seen.
Confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported in Australia, including the ACT. ACT Health has issued a clinician alert to GPs and hospitals to provide advice on referral and diagnosis.
How monkeypox spreads
Monkeypox mainly spreads from one person to another by direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has symptoms, such as during sexual activity. Less commonly, it may be spread by direct contact with contaminated objects such as bedding, towels or clothes or by breathing in droplets from an infected person during prolonged face-to-face contact.
People with monkeypox are infectious from the time they first get symptoms until all the lesions have crusted, scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath.
Who is at risk?
People are at highest risk following skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkeypox and has a rash or sores. This can happen when you are having sex.
Based on current experience in Australia and internationally, people at highest risk from monkeypox are gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) who have close and intimate contact with multiple partners.
Events held in enclosed spaces such as sex parties, saunas and sex-on-premises venues, where there is intimate physical contact with others, carry a higher risk of monkeypox transmission.
Anyone taking part in these types of activities can be exposed to monkeypox – the risk of exposure to monkeypox is associated with behaviours involving close physical contact, not with an individual’s gender or sexuality.
Although most cases in Australia have been in people infected while overseas, some were likely infected in Australia.
Symptoms usually begin 7-14 days after exposure, but this can be as short as a few days or as long as 21 days.
Symptoms of the illness caused by the monkeypox virus can include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, backache and swollen lymph nodes.
Following these symptoms, a distinctive blistering rash usually develops, that spreading to other parts of the body. The rash changes and goes through different stages, like chickenpox, before becoming a scab.
A notable feature of this international outbreak is that some people with monkeypox only notice a few pimple-like lesions in the genital area or buttocks. The illness is usually mild, and most people recover within 2-4 weeks.
Anyone who develops symptoms, should stay at home and phone their GP clinic to organise a telehealth appointment in the first instance, or they can phone the Canberra Sexual Health Clinic on (02) 5124 2184.
If you need to attend an in-person appointment as part of a diagnosis, you should wear a mask and cover any lesions.
ACT Health has been working closely with the Australian Government and other jurisdictions to secure a supply of monkeypox vaccines in the ACT for those who are at risk of exposure to monkeypox in line with guidance from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
A small initial supply of the JYNNEOS vaccine will be available in the ACT from week commencing 15 August for ACT residents and people from NSW with established links with ACT healthcare providers.
People most at risk of exposure, transmission, and severe outcomes from monkeypox if it were to be more widespread, will have access to these initial vaccine doses.
While the risk of monkeypox virus is not associated with gender, sex or sexuality, the initial targeted monkeypox vaccination rollout will be to those most vulnerable groups at risk of exposure based on the spread of the disease to date in Australia and overseas.
The priority criteria for the initial vaccine supply in the ACT are:
People who have close and intimate contact with multiple partners (this can include attendance at sex parties, saunas and sex-on-premises venues)
Identify as a:
Sex worker with clients who are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) OR
GBMSM living with HIV and who have a CD4 count < 500
GBMSM with barriers to accessing early care and support if they were exposed to monkeypox. This may include individuals who:
Are homeless or have unstable housing/accommodation arrangements
Have drug use or mental health concerns that impact on their ability to access care
Canberra Sexual Centre (CSHC) will be the ACT’s initial vaccination site.
If you think you meet the above priority criteria for monkeypox vaccination in the ACT, please discuss with Health your GP who can refer you for vaccination or call Canberra Sexual Health Centre between 1:30pm and 4:00pm Monday to Friday. Please be aware that CSHC is responding to a high volume of calls. Your patience and courtesy while contacting CSHC is greatly appreciated.
For the initial rollout of vaccine, ACT doctors and community service providers will be able to support identification and linkage to vaccine appointments for people in these priority groups. If you have concerns about monkeypox or questions about the above priority criteria, you can discuss them with your GP who can also refer you to CSHC for vaccination if you meet the priority criteria.
As more doses become available the priority groups for the vaccine will be expanded and will be updated on this webpage.
People who have received a vaccine for monkeypox may still be at risk of becoming infected with monkeypox and should continue to be alert to symptoms.
The vaccine can also be used as a post-exposure treatment for people who have had a known high-risk exposure (as determined by ACT Health).
A small number of doses is being reserved for people who have had a known high-risk exposure to monkeypox who may be eligible for post exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
More information about the JYNNEOS vaccine is available here.
For health professionals and community service providers